Blackbeard airs June 17 and June 18 in 2006, according to the Hallmark Channel. The mini-series, which I wrote for Larry Levinson Productions, has been in production now since July 25 over in Thailand. Now it's getting the first media roll-out -- confirming actors and putting out press releases.
Today's Hollywood Reporter gives it big play, focusing on the four of the stars: Angus McFadyen, Stacy Keach, Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward.
Based on the number of hits this page gets from around the world, there must be a lot of Blackbeard fans waiting for that scurvy pirate's return.
The production is located in Khanom, Thailand. As the cameras rolled, my draft of the script hovered at about 230 pages for the four-hour epic. It's a rousing good story -- a little Master and Commander, a dash of Horatio Hornblower, some Captain Blood and some history.
This is the second four-hour mini-series I've written for Larry Levinson Productions -- the first being The Poseidon Adventure which airs on NBC on November 20th. I guess if it's a long film on the water, I am becoming the guy to call!
In this film, we play Blackbeard for the badass pirate he supposedly was.
We're very lucky to have found the talented Angus Macfadyen to play this rogue. You may remember him best in Braveheart, where he played Robert the Bruce.
Macfadyen gets to do a star turn on the dark side this time because Edward Teach (aka "Blackbeard") deserved his reputation as the most dangerous pirate of his time. Yet he had colors any actor would want to paint with -- Blackbeard could be charming as hell, then turn into a stone sociopath.
Our story isn't based on any particular source material (other than the gray matter in my head, I suppose). But if you're looking for hangings, walking the plank, treasure hunts, mutiny, sword fights, duels and the clash of good and evil with a love story as a backdrop then this may be for you. You will not hear "arr matey" or "shiver me timbers" in the entire four hours, although I am rather fond of Blackbeard's penchant for saying "you may lay to that" and the production guys have added a few "me hearties" here and there.
Our way into the story is to elevate the character of Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the Royal Navy officer who killed Blackbeard back in 1718. In this version, we have a bit of a Donnie Brasco thing going on with Maynard (played by Mark Umbers), but that's all I'm prepared to say. Oh, and we solve the mystery of Captain Kidd's treasure, lost twenty years before Blackbeard came on the scene.
Here's some other casting news. Jessica Chastain plays Charlotte, Maynard's love interest, and a pawn in Blackbeard's deadly game.
Another top British actor, Nick Farrell, plays the corrupt governor's henchman, Tobias Knight.
Australian actress Rachel Ward plays Sally Dunbar, the link between Kidd and Blackbeard... and the treasure.
Stacy Keach plays Captain James Hornigold, Blackbeard's mentor in the pirating business.
For sheer fun, though, it would be hard to beat the casting of miniseries veteran Richard Chamberlain to play the corrupt Governor Charles Eden, Charlotte's step-father who's in league with Blackbeard.
For those of you tuned into these kinds of things, this also marks a re-union for Chamberlain and Ward who co-starred in the 1983 ABC miniseries The Thorn Birds.
By the way, thanks to Carmel Torcasio for providing a few of these on-set photos to stoke pirate fever worldwide!
The producers are justifiably proud of the "lavish sets" that have been created by some top-notch construction crews in Thailand. First, what it looks like on paper:
Then, what it looks like when the set construction guys get to work.
Of course, by now, all the sets have been finished, but you'll have to see the film to check out how truly expansive they are.
It's amazing how many talented people have come together to do this, mostly because they've always wanted to do a "pirate movie." That includes director Kevin Connor, director of photography Alan Caso, costume designer Dana Campbell and producer Russ Markowitz. This is my second time around with co-executive producer Dan Gross who's just great to work with, and I'm enjoying the creative collaboration with his fellow co-exec producer Mike Moran as well. Both Dan and Mike are pirates at heart -- a very good thing, given the material. As Dan says:
"Hallmark obsesses over quality and pushes us to raise the bar -- one way to do that is by filming in exotic locations. We're going to deliver an epic that looks like something most people haven't seen before."
Kevin, the director, and I have bonded over script conferences between his hotel in Thailand and my office in Hollywood. He says "good morning" and I say "good night" when we talk, but somehow it's all worked. It's been a respectful collaboration, the kind the Writers Guild would probably wish for all their members. I have this feeling he's going to shoot one hell of a pirate movie. Of course, being a veteran, Kevin is fond of reminding me:
"There are three movies. The one you write, the one you shoot and the one the audience sees."
Technically, I guess you'd have to say that production started in June when sea footage was shot off the coast of northwest Washington, near Gray's Harbor. Two tall ships slugged it out for our cameras: the Lady Washington and the Lynx, both with their crew members and some extras costumed for our production.
Speaking of extras, here's the blog-post description from one man who was traveling in Thailand who ended up being an extra.
History buffs, please be kind. Certain liberties have been taken with the historical record. Like moving the location of the action from North Carolina to the Caribbean. Still, it's not as much as has been done in just about every other pirate movie I've seen, but enough that I'm not expecting to be invited as a guest lecturer on the university circuit.
Previous film versions have been wider off the mark by a long shot (presumably fired from a musket). In 1952, Robert Newton played a so over-the-top Blackbeard in Blackbeard, the Pirate that my head still spins thinking about it. The story even had Henry Morgan as a character, a virtual impossibility since he was already dead when Blackbeard was at work. And even my friend Stan Lee did a version in Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four where The Thing goes back in time and becomes Blackbeard. I'm pretty sure that didn't happen!
Point is simply that, although our production, too, is a good old adventurous pirate yarn, its tone is still the closest anybody has come in film to the way it was.
Having passed the baton from script to production, I'm blogging this from Hollywood... break a leg to all the cast and crew in Thailand!